Behind the Scenes at the AHA
You’re probably familiar with the AHA annual meeting, held each January. But you may not know that the AHA is hosting two regional conferences on introductory history courses this October, at Baylor University in Waco, Texas, and at Salt Lake Community College, South City Campus, in Salt Lake City, Utah. But why Texas and Utah?
The AHA has been hosting regional conferences on teaching history for nearly a decade as part of the Tuning the History Discipline and History Gateways initiatives. The first took place in 2014 at St. Francis College in Brooklyn, New York, where the organizers hoped for 30 to 40 attendees. Over 130 historians registered, and other conferences soon followed in Florida, California, and Texas, spearheaded by local faculty members intimately familiar with the needs of their fellow teachers and willing to help with organizing sessions and logistics. Today, AHA staff including senior program analyst Julia Brookins, program assistant Rachel Wheatley, and manager of teaching and learning Brendan Gillis continue to work with local faculty to organize such conferences.
First organized in 2015, the Texas Conference on Introductory History Courses is now an annual event for two-year, four-year, and secondary school dual-enrollment faculty in the state. Now in its ninth year, the conference was first conceptualized by AHA Council member Trinidad Gonzales (South Texas Coll.) with the aim of fostering a community of practice across Texas. At Texas public institutions, all associate’s degree graduates are required to take at least three credits in US history, while bachelor’s recipients must take six credits; institutions also share a course numbering system and common student learning outcomes for history courses. As Brookins told Perspectives, these degree requirements mean that “there are just more people teaching college-level history in Texas.” With this event, the AHA is able to support productive conversations about shared opportunities and challenges, while faculty who attend stay informed about state policy structures in a relatively low-stakes environment. Course-specific discussions on US, African American, and Mexican American intro history courses allow attendees to learn from one another. This year’s conference will feature discussions on incorporating gender and sexuality topics into intro courses, along with policy discussions and a session with the Oral History Association.
The Utah Conference on Introductory History Courses, delayed since 2020 because of the pandemic, is helmed by Daniel J. McInerney and Norm Jones, both emeritus faculty at Utah State University. Like Texas, Utah has unique curricular requirements for students at public colleges and universities, including a course on American institutions, and historians there benefit from intercampus discussions of such system-wide courses. Utah’s institutions of higher education thus have an existing culture of collaboration and communication, and the AHA hopes the 2023 conference theme of “Building a Stronger K–16 Bridge” will serve to bolster these relationships. As Gillis told Perspectives, “We all have a lot to learn from each other, as we work to boost student engagement, overcome achievement gaps, and ponder issues like the significance of artificial intelligence. These questions helped shape our thinking about how to frame the Utah Conference.”
One of the AHA’s goals is to make gatherings of teachers as accessible as possible. Regional conferences are key to fulfilling this objective, since not all educators can afford to travel to the AHA annual meeting each year. As Brookins explained, “A history conference by and for history faculty in those states allows them to access each other as a resource, in a way that would not be financially feasible for many.” Registration for the Texas and Utah conferences is free, thanks to the generosity of host institutions and sponsors.
Wondering when the AHA will come to your state? Reach out to our staff. We would love to collaborate with you to help bring productive conversations like these to a campus near you.
Laura Ansley is senior managing editor at the AHA.
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